It was like a myth, a Shakespearean tragedy. The fallacy was pathetic, so too was the hero; a forlorn figure pacing the Stamford Bridge touchline in a daze, a man whose world was crashing down around him, a creature to elicit pity.
Those were the final days of Jose Mourinho’s reign as Chelsea manager, a penultimate fall that consigned the erstwhile Special One to a final home defeat in the Premier League.
He was the champion of England – Chelsea’s champion, too – but if there is a run of events to sum up such an epic fall from grace, it’s the story of Jose Mourinho’s final three games in charge of the West London club for which he once seemed so perfectly created.
Only one league win in six weeks preceded the visit of newly-promoted Bournemouth to Stamford Bridge. Eddie Howe’s team had battled bravely in those weeks leading up to their own daunting double header, too: having suffered mass casualties at the start of the campaign, the Cherries themselves hadn’t won a game of football in two and a half months but faced Chelsea and then Manchester United.
It was victory over Chelsea that proved the start of Bournemouth’s comeback – one that saw them establish themselves as a Premier League football club – and hasten the departure of Mourinho.
It was an embarrassment. Not just because the champions lost to the division’s paupers, a side the kings of Stamford Bridge should never have succumbed to, but because Mourinho looked so obviously drained of his powers.
Yet it wasn’t quite the end. There was still a chance to put it right.
When it comes to crucial events and Jose Mourinho, it so often seems as if fate itself is conspiring to shape the landscape. One way or another, there is always a fitting story: a link to the past. This time, there was to be one final stand at Stamford Bridge. A defiant Mourinho standing up against the next enemy, an attempt to salvage an entire season. The next game was Porto at home.
A 2-0 victory over his former club looked like a visit from the Ghost of Successes Past, a chance for Mourinho to gain in strength and turn it all around. It was one final stand at Stamford Bridge, one final victory – at least the death knell sounded on a high note.
Looking back, it is almost medieval. King Harold’s battle to hang on to the English throne in 1066 started, fittingly, with victory in the Battle of Stamford Bridge before marching to Hastings and suffering defeat to William the Conqueror.
Jose Mourinho’s very own final victory at Stamford Bridge was – exactly like Harold – followed five days later by ultimate defeat. The final humiliation, the arrow through his eye, a defeat to Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City: the pretenders to the English crown managed by the man Mourinho had usurped 11 years previously.
Sunday sees the return of the king in the regalia of a new land: he has demons to exorcise and wrongs to right. The Bridge has been the battleground for so many of Jose Mourinho’s biggest victories over the last decade or so. But it has also been the scene of his greatest fall, his heaviest defeat.
In victory, he so often creates division, conflict and a toxic mess that eventually consumes him. In defeat, he raises up a new army to take back his crown.
Is there another figure in football who befits an epic tragedy quite like Jose Mourinho? The tapestry detailing the story of his struggles at Stamford Bridge is long, but as yet unfinished. The saga continues on Sunday.